December 28, 2007

"Tell Mr. Devil to walk out of your barn"

Brigham Young June 15, 1856 A paradox as taught by Christ is that by losing one's life for Christ, one will find it (see Matthew 10:39; 16:25). Rather than "laying up treasures on earth," Brigham believed we ought not place our hearts upon the things of this world:

We are organized for the express purpose of controlling the elements, of organizing and disorganizing, of ruling over kingdoms, principalities, and powers, and yet our affections are often too highly placed upon paltry, perishable objects. We love houses, gold, silver, and various kinds of property, and all who unduly prize any object there is beneath the celestial world are idolaters. Let every man and woman bring up their children according to the law of heaven. Teach your children from their youth, never to set their hearts immoderately upon an object of this world. Should you train yourselves? Yes, you should.
Here, Brigham applied one of his colorful illustrations to encourage the Saints to "banish selfishness."
The Gospel of salvation has been revealed unto us expressly to teach our hearts understanding, and when I learn the principles of charity or righteousness I will adhere to them, and say to selfishness, you must not have that which you want; and when it urges that I have no more flour than I shall need until harvest, and that I must not give any away, not even a pound, I say, get out of my door. And when it argues that a brother will not be profited by our endeavors to benefit him, that you had better keep your money to yourselves and not let him have this ox, that farm or cow, &c., and strives to persuade you not to feed such a poor person, not to do anything for the P. E. F. Company, that you have not any more than you need, just do as the man did in Vermont; for by the report we would judge him to be a pretty good man. He had a farm, raised a large quantity of grain, and usually had some to spare. It so happened one season that a poor neighbor thrashed out his rye, and was to receive his pay in grain. The poor man came; the farmer told him to leave his bags and he would measure up the amount and have it ready when again called for. He was alone when measuring the grain, and as he put into the measure, something whispered to him, "Pour it in lightly," but instead of doing this, he gave the measure a kick. When he put on the strike something said to him, "When you take that off, take a little out, the poor man will know nothing about it." At last the farmer said, "Mr. Devil, walk out of my barn, or I will heap every half bushel I measure for the poor man." When you are tempted to do wrong, do not stop one moment to argue, but tell Mr. Devil to walk out of your barn, or you will heap up every half bushel; you can do that, I know. A drunkard can walk by a tavern, though I have heard it said that some men cannot go by, or if they do manage to get by, that they say, "Now I know I am the master, and I will go back and treat [toast] resolution."

Brigham knew we will face temptations, have evil thoughts at times, give way to the adversary, but he believed we can become master over ourselves by recalling the good instead of the evil for ourselves, as well as for others. A charitable outlook would help:
I am aware that some will argue that they cannot do good without evil being present with them; that has nothing to do with the case. Though it may be present with them, as it was with Paul, there is no necessity for any man's giving way to that evil. If we should do good, do it, and tell the evil to stand out of the way. You are privileged to be masters of yourselves; you can strengthen your memories, and by a close application you can train yourselves to remember the good instead of the evil. If anybody has injured you, forget it. Can you do so? I know you can.
As Peter said:
And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
Selfishness can and must be overcome if we are to be truly united:
I do not care what becomes of the things of this world, of the gold, of the silver, of the houses and of the lands, so we have power to gather the houses of Israel, redeem Zion, and establish the kingdom of God on the earth. I would not give a cent for all the rest.

Granted, the things of this world aren't inherently evil. Brigham taught we should enjoy things, take comfort, and use our means to spread the gospel, and find and spread good in the earth. Zion must be redeemed!
True, these things which the Lord bestows upon us are for our comfort, for our happiness and convenience, but everything must be devoted to the building up of the kingdom of God on the earth. I may say that this Gospel is to spread to the nations of the earth, Israel is to be gathered, Zion redeemed, and the land of Joseph, which is the land of Zion, is to be in the possession of the Saints, if the Lord Almighty lets me live; and if I go behind the vail somebody else must see to it. My brethren must bear it off shoulder to shoulder. We must be of one heart and one mind and roll forth this kingdom; and when we get the first Presidency, and Twelve, and so one, shoulder to shoulder to forward the kingdom, wives and children, what are you going to do? Will you pull another way? No, but let your affections, faith, and all your works be with your husbands, and be obedient to them as unto the Lord. And husbands, serve the Lord with all your hearts, and then we shall be a blessed people, and be of one heart and mind, and the Lord will withhold no good thing from us, but we shall put down the power of Satan, walk triumphantly through the world, preach the Gospel and gather the Saints. I say then, let us be faithful, and may God bless you. Amen (JD 3:357-361).

December 27, 2007

"The joy which filled my bosom in reading that sacred record"

Parley P. Pratt April 7, 1856 Samuel Smith, often referred to as the first missionary of this dispensation,[1] set out with the newly printed Book of Mormon for sale. Since it came off the press the Book of Mormon played a part in the conversion process of Latter-day Saints, though not always in the way contemporary Mormons might think. The Book of Mormon appears to have been somewhat neglected by early members of the Church. So far in my reading of the Journal of Discourses I have noticed a disparity in how often it is actually quoted in comparison with the Bible. Noel Reynolds explained that "writings in the early years of the Church contain remarkably few references to the Book of Mormon." Early converts steeped in a Biblical tradition were more apt to use the Bible in their preaching perhaps because of familiarity, or even because it was easier for their listeners to accept. Even when the Book of Mormon was cited, it was typically in reference to Biblical prophesies.[2] Terryl Givens argued the Book of Mormon was seen more as a sign that the heavens are open than a doctrinal exegesis.[3] Even Joseph Smith rarely quoted actual verses from the book.[4] Regardless of the reasons, the Book of Mormon received enough neglect to warrant a divine mandate: repent and remember the Book of Mormon (see D&C 84:54-57). References to the Book of Mormon still remained few, but interest in the book grew gradually until President Ezra Taft Benson declared the need to "flood the earth" with it. Since then, the Book of Mormon has held a prominent place in the Church; readership seems to have increased, publications on the book and references from it in General Conference have ballooned.[5] With that background in mind, consider this remarkable sermon by Parley P. Pratt which gives one of the fullest treatments of the Book of Mormon thus far in the Journal of Discourses. This sermon was given during the April conference marking the 26th anniversary of the founding of the Church, and Parley saw the growth of the gospel as reason to rejoice:

My brethren, sisters, and friends,[6] I have rejoiced in the return of this anniversary of the rise of the Church, and to see so many of those that we have reason to believe love the truth, assembled in general conference; in beholding and seeing the faces of so many as were assembled on yesterday, and as are here today; to feel the spirit, behold the unanimity, and the good feeling that appear to exist, and the dispatch with which we are enabled to transact business; and in reviewing the past, looking at the present, and contemplating the future, my heart has been cheered. I have been highly edified and interested, and have had reason to rejoice in looking at the Saints...who have met to rejoice and reflect upon the things of God. I have rejoiced while listening to the edifying discourses which have been delivered. I have not heard anything more useful and more to the point for a long time than the discourse on yesterday in the forenoon; it was practical and instructive in all its points, just the advice and counsel that are needed at the present time; nor have I been less edified and instructed in the remarks made, as I conceive in the spirit of prophecy, in a great measure, that flowed from my brother yesterday in the afternoon, a parting discourse as we may call it, as he expects soon to depart to a foreign land on the other side of the ocean.
The brothers would not meet again in mortality; Parley was killed the following year on a mission to the Southern states.
I have also been led to reflect much in contemplating that this is the twenty-sixth year since the restoration of the Church of God, visibly as an organization upon the earth. Twenty-six years have rolled away in the experience of this Church, and it naturally leads the mind to contemplate upon the past, and past events will rise in review, the memory will fall back upon them and whether we look at the past, the present, or the future, the mind cannot but view it, if it is constituted like mine, or influenced by the same spirit that mine is influenced by, with pleasure and delight.
His thoughts turned to the Book of Mormon, which he first read in 1830 while traveling as a Campbellite preacher. He describes his conversion experience:
Twenty-six years ago, the coming summer, mine eyes glanced over the Book of Mormon, and I afterward heard the voice of the servant of the Lord and enjoyed the smiles and the blessings of the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum, and received under their hands and those of Oliver Cowdery the Priesthood, or a portion of it, and the keys and power of the same, they having received it by the ministering of angels, to be carried through to all the people of the earth; and at that time all the people of this Church upon the face of the earth, could have been assembled in the vestry of this Tabernacle without being much crowded.
He gives a rare synopsis of some of the content of the Book of Mormon that brought him joy; most notably, Christ's visit to the Nephites in the book of 3 Nephi:
The joy which filled my bosom in reading that sacred record, waking up our minds and giving us the knowledge of the past dealings of God with the inhabitants of this vast western hemisphere, and of a nation of people as ancient as that of Abraham or of the Jaredites, and giving us a knowledge also of a branch of scattered Israel led away from the land of their fathers 600 years before Christ, and the glorious fact, the most important of all others in the book, that the risen Jesus in his glorified immortal flesh and bones set his feet upon this western hemisphere and ministered publicly to thousands and thousands of the Nephites, blessed them, revealed to them his Gospel in its fulness, and was glorified in their presence, and thousands of them had the privilege of bowing at his feet, of bathing his feet with their tears and of kissing them, and of handling him and seeing and beholding the wounds that were pierced in his side and his hands and feet, and of hearing the words of salvation and the commandments of God from his own mouth, and then from day to day they had the privilege of assembling in general conference and hearing his prophesyings, and his remarks on the prophecies of the Prophets referring to himself and to others, prophecies also concerning this our day, and the coming forth of this work to us, and the visions that should appear and be given at the opening up of this dispensation; all these things received in faith in my heart, and by the spirit of knowledge and of light and of understanding, and of hope and joy, and charity filled my heart in a way that I never can express to any being; to have the same joy understood, it must be experienced.
Parley saw in the Book of Mormon a pattern which unfolded in his own experience. The Book of Mormon openly proclaims that God still speaks to His children, and that all can ask and receive, knock, and have the mysteries opened. Hope, joy, charity; these things were experienced rather than merely read about. Alma describes the change that comes over a person, and compares it to the growing of a tree. He explains one will feel swelling motions (see Alma 32), which I believe Parley has described in different words above. Parley said this type of knowledge exceeded mere physical evidence. Since that initial converting experience, Parley said the seed continued to grow, and it increased his faith that Joseph Smith, who translated the book, was indeed a true prophet of God:
Nor have I been disappointed in my hopes since I embraced this Gospel. After twenty-six years of progress-progressive fulfilment of the things spoken by that Redeemer to the Nephites, and the things written by his commandment and brought forth unto us, I not only believe but I realize and know by the Spirit of the Lord as well as a man knows anything that he sees and hears, and better too, for a man might be deceived in seeing or in hearing, but I know these things by that light that reflects on the understanding, and in which there is no mistake, nor deception. By that I knew that the work was true and that Joseph Smith, the finder, translator, and the restorer of the Priesthood upon the earth, was a Prophet and an Apostle of Jesus Christ;a restorer, raised up according to that which is written, to bring back and commit unto the person appointed, those covenants, those keys, those ordinances, that Gospel and plan of salvation which were had in old times, but which had been suspended and lost from the enjoyment of the people; I say, that he was such, I had a knowledge and an understanding.
Parley does something interesting here, something missionaries and Latter-day Saints still do: He tied his testimony of the Book of Mormon as a true book to the divine calling of Joseph Smith. If the Book of Mormon is true, he reasoned, then Joseph was a true prophet:
He was only about twenty-four or twenty-five years old when I first met him, and I became intimately acquainted with him and his brothers, and with his father's house, and I remained so, as far as I was not separated by foreign missions, until his death; and did I not know, and do I not know and bear testimony that he lived and that he died an Apostle and Prophet of Jesus Christ?
Joseph Smith provided the world with concrete evidence of his prophethood in the Book of Mormon, as Terryl Givens explained on the PBS documentary The Mormons:
What Joseph does there, see, he takes a very important step from which he would never, never retreat, and that is that he creates a foundation from which it is virtually impossible to mythologize or allegorize the foundations of Mormonism. What that means is that it puts the Book of Mormon in a position in which it is very, very hard to find a middle ground, because [with] many of the stories of the Bible we can say, "Well, we don't know that God really wrote with his finger on the tablets of Moses," or, "We don't know that Moses really spoke face to face with God." One can take a kind of distance and say it's the message of the Bible that's important; that God has become incarnate in Jesus Christ, and salvation is through him... The same is not true in the case of the Book of Mormon. It's not [just] the message in the Book of Mormon which is true; it's the message about the Book of Mormon. If Joseph really was visited by an Angel Moroni and really was given gold plates, then he was a prophet, and he has the authority to speak on God's behalf. That's how the logic worked.[7]
His testimony of the Book of Mormon as inspired, of Joseph Smith as true prophet, continued to Brigham Young as successor and to the priesthood authority as held in the Church.[8] Interestingly, Parley's brother Orson brought up the Book of Mormon just 6 days after this discourse; saying he felt "disposed to read" from the Book in his discourse,
...for I highly esteem the Book of Mormon, as I presume do all the Latter-day Saints. But many lay it upon the shelf and let it remain there for a year or two, consequently they become careless concerning the dealings of the Lord with the Former-day Saints.
He tied the reading of ancient scripture to the testimony of living prophets:
It is my belief that if this people more carefully read the oracle of the ancients, they would be directed more diligently to attend to the Living Oracles. We are commanded to search the Scriptures for instructions, but I fear that we neglect this counsel too much, and become careless. In consequence of such neglect, the Lord reproved this Church some years ago, and said that the whole Church was under condemnation, because they had neglected the Book of Mormon; and He told them that unless they would repent, they should be held under condemnation, and should be scourged, and judgments should be poured out upon them. If you would read these things in the Spirit, and call upon God to give you His Spirit to fix the sayings of the Prophets upon your minds, you would do good and derive benefit therefrom. If the Saints will give most earnest and diligent heed unto the instructions given in those books which have been preserved, and especially to the instructions which are given by our President, they will prosper and be blest in all things.[9]
Faith in prophets and apostles were appendages to that initial testimony of Christ and the Book of Mormon as another witness of Him. Keeping that testimony vibrant takes effort. As Alma asked, once you have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, can ye feel so now? (see Alma 5:26):
Has it become dim and waxed cold in my heart, or departed from it? I say unto you no! But if it be possible for a man to rejoice more than I rejoiced twenty-six years ago, I say if it be possible, then I rejoice more to-day than I did on yesterday and more than I did twenty-six years ago-and why? Because my heart is larger; it was full then, it is full now, and although outwardly and according to the flesh, and in the world I may be in tribulation and sorrow, and care, and labor, and anxiety, yet in Jesus Christ there is peace, in the fulness of the Gospel there is joy, in the Spirit of God there is gladness; and whether we look to the past we rejoice with thanksgiving, and whether we look to the present our hearts seem to grow larger, and whether we look to the future there is hope and a fulness of joy, and we increase in understanding-and why? Because the Spirit that is in us sheds forth in abundance in our souls joy and satisfaction, and the Gospel inspires us with a degree of knowledge and light, and certainty in regard to what we are about, in regard to the work we are engaged in and the prospects that lie before us.
God's grace through the Holy Ghost fills us; the change of heart doesn't come as the mere result of our own works, but in a relationship of growth with God leading us and changing us on the way. Parley said the Book of Mormon was an instrument in bringing about that process.[9] For all Parley knew, he also knew he wanted to know more. But he knew enough to feel satisfied while seeking for further light and knowledge. As Nephi told the angel he knew not the meaning of all things, (see 1 Nephi 11:17) so Parley explained:
We know for what we labor, although in the flesh, subject to mortality and its weaknesses; we may be partially asleep, or in other words we may know in part, comprehend in part, prophesy in part, and hope in part, not seeing and realizing the fulness, nor the thousandth part of the fulness that will be consummated in the progress of this work. But after we see enough of it to serve us for the time being, and we enter into it with sufficient comprehension to rejoice with a heart full of joy and of satisfaction, it inspires us to act with all our heart, might, mind and strength.
Rather than give us all the answers, the Book of Mormon gives us important insight into receiving answers for ourselves. To me, the greatest power in the book is its invitation to each individual to seek for themselves. Joseph Smith's experience is to become our own. The Book of Mormon, being revealed by God, demonstrates the process of revelation in the way it came forth, and within its pages the process is repeated again and again. Footnotes: [1] See Saints Without Halos for more information on Samuel. [2] See Noel B. Reynolds, "The Book of Mormon in the Twentieth Century," BYU Studies, vol. 38 no. 2, pp. 7-47. The jury is still out on this issue, however. Not all sermons- especially at the lower levels of the Church- were recorded. I wonder how often journals discuss the Book of Mormon or principles therein, as well. It has been argued (I was apprised by a post on the blog Juvenile Instructor) the Book of Mormon was used more in print than in sermons, that references to it are often made in publications like the Evening and Morning Star. Jan Shipps, through Richard Bushman, argued:
Jan Shipps has argued that the Book of Mormon was one of the great foundation pillars of early Mormonism, and I agree (”The Book of Mormon in Early Mormon History”, 16, in New Views of Mormon History, edited by Davis Bitton and Marueen Ursenbach Beecher).
Steven C. Harper argued that the Book of Mormon provided a crucial and tangible tool for early Mormon converts who were persuaded both by empirical and revelatory evidence, and that the Book of Mormon played a large role in many early conversion narratives. See "Infallible Proofs, Both Human and Divine: The Persuasiveness of Mormonism for Early Converts," Religion and American Culture, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Winter, 2000), pp. 99-118.
[3] See Terryl Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion, Oxford University Press, USA (March 14, 2002). [4] Richard Bushman mentioned he thought it odd that after completing the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith seemed to "set it aside," so to speak and move right along. He adjusted his conclusion, realizing that Joseph, rather than simply setting the Book of Mormon aside, actually continued the Book of Mormon tradition by bringing forth new records (such as the Book of Abraham, and the inspired translation of the Bible). See Bushman, "The Book of Mormon in Early Mormon History," Believing History, 65-78. [5] President Benson's key address on using the Book of Mormon was "Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon," Ensign, November, 1988. For more on the development of the usage of the book, see Reynolds, "The Book of Mormon in the Twentieth Century," BYU Studies, vol. 38 no. 2, pp. 7-47. [6] James E. Faust became fond of sometimes addressing the saints as "brothers, and sisters, and friends." For example, see "The Light in Their Eyes," General Conference October, 2005, and "This is Our Day," General Conference April, 1999, among others. [7] Givens' quote is from Helen Whitney's PBS documentary The Mormons. He continues:
One can't take a kind of distance and say, "Well, maybe he was an inspired dreamer; maybe he was an inspired visionary," because from day one he points to the physicality of those plates, meaning that the foundations of Mormonism are located in real space and time, not in a prophet's interior world... There's no question that the church rises or falls on the veracity of Joseph Smith's story. Now, as a consequence, some people, for example, the Community of Christ, their president made a statement a few years ago in which he said, "History as theology is perilous." You don't want, in other words, to found all of your beliefs and hopes and religious values on a historical account that may prove to be spurious. To which my reply is yes, history as theology is perilous. If it turns out that the whole story of Christ's resurrection is a fabrication, then Christianity collapses. That's the price we pay for believing in a God who intervenes in human history, who has real interactions with real human beings in real space and time. That makes it historical, and that's a reality that we just can't flee away from. ...What we have is an unmediated presentation of gold plates to us through one prophet figure...It is its strength...
[8] If the Book of Mormon is true, Joseph is a prophet. This testimony tied to the priesthood authority, which continued with Brigham Young and so forth, as Parley explained:
And from the day of [Joseph Smith's] death, or long before that until the present, I have been intimately acquainted and associated with the Apostles of this Church and kingdom under all circumstances, whether in sickness or in health, whether in the midst of life or in death, whether in prosperity or adversity; whether abounding or suffering want; whether by sea or land; whether in the midst of peace or of mobs and oppression. And do I not know that President Young and his counselors and the other Apostles associated with him in this Church, hold the keys of salvation? That they hold that authority which administers life and salvation to the obedient and the humble, and which to reject is condemnation, wherever it exists, to every soul of man upon the earth? Yes I do know it, and I do this day bear testimony of it, and of that glorious Gospel in its fulness which was restored to the earth twenty-six years ago, that filled my heart with joy and charity and love for my fellow men, and with a desire to do good, and to impart the truth as it is revealed (JD 3:308-309).
[9] Orson Pratt, JD 3:344-354. More to come from Orson's discourse in a future post. [10] For more on the role of grace in changing our hearts, see "You Find What You Seek."

December 26, 2007

Gospel dispelling the gloom

Brigham Young April 20, 1856 There may be some few exceptions, but I have made no sacrifices. "Mormonism" has done everything for me that ever has been done for me on the earth; it has made me happy, it has made me wealthy and comfortable; it has filled me with good feelings, with joy and rejoicing. Whereas, before I possessed the spirit of the Gospel, I was troubled with that which I hear others complain of, that is, with, at times, feeling cast down, gloomy, and desponding; with everything wearing to me, at times, a dreary aspect. But have the trees, the streams, the rocks, or any part of creation worn a gloomy aspect to me for one half minute since I came in possession of the Spirit of this Gospel? No, though before that time I might view the most beautiful gardens, buildings, cities, plantations, or anything else in nature, yet to me they all wore at times a shade of death. They appeared at times as though a vail was brooding over them, which cast a dark shade upon all things, like the shade of the valley of death, and I felt lonesome and bad. But since I have embraced the Gospel not for one half minute, to the best of my recollection, has anything worn to me a gloomy aspect, under all circumstances I have felt pleasant and cheerful. When surrounded by mobs, with death and destruction threatening on every hand, I am not aware but that I felt just as joyful, just as well in my spirit, as I do now. Prospects might appear dull and very dark, but I have never seen a time in this Gospel but what I knew that the result would be beneficial to the cause of truth and the lovers of righteousness, and I have always felt to joyfully acknowledge the hand of the Lord in all things (JD 3:316-327). For more on optimism, see: The Privileges and Blessings of the Gospel Rejoice in God: Trials and Tolerance Trials and Happiness "Realize from whence your blessings flow"

December 24, 2007

Orson's Christmas Sermon

Orson Pratt December 29, 1872 On the Sabbath following Christmas, Orson Pratt addressed the congregation, and began his Christmas discourse by emphasizing the importance and meaning of the sacrament:

We are, this afternoon, commemorating according to our usual custom, one of the most important events that has ever transpired in our world, and one which most concerns the whole human family, namely, the death and sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ for the redemption of the human family. No other event can be compared with this in its importance, and in its bearings upon the human family. Everything else is but of a secondary consideration, when compared with the atonement that has been wrought out in behalf of man by the great Redeemer...[1]
As Joseph Smith taught,[2] everything in our religion is only an appendage to the atonement of Jesus Christ. After explaining the fallibility of the dating of the birth of Christ,[3] Orson expressed some historical thoughts on the celebrating of Christmas as a holiday:
Having found out that there is an error in regard to the year of Christ's birth, now let us inquire if the day observed by the Christian world as the day of his birth, the 25th of December, is or is not the real Christmas Day? A great many authors have found out from their researches that it is not. I think that there is scarcely an author at the present day that believes that the 25th day of December was the day that Christ was born on. Still it is observed by certain classes, and we, whether we make any profession or not, are just foolish enough to observe this old Roman Catholic festival. The boys and girls all look forward with great anticipations to Christmas. Many of them, it is true, do not know the meaning of it, or why it is celebrated; but when we come to reflect on the matter, it is all nonsense to celebrate the 25th day of December as the birthday of Jesus.
Lest he sound like too much of a kill-joy, he tempered his remarks:
It will do for a holiday, so you might select any other day for that purpose.
True enough, most scholars, and Latter-day Saints, do not believe December 25 is the actual birthday of Jesus of Nazareth. Celebrating Christmas in December seems to be a tradition began by the Roman Catholic Church. In he 2nd century A.D., the Romans began holding a festival on December 25 called "Dies Natalis Solis Invicti," or "the birthday of the unconquered sun." It is likely that the sun was considered "unconquered" then due to the prolonged day during winter solstice (which occurs today around Dec. 21-22). According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Sol Invictus festival has a "strong claim on the responsibility" for the date of Christmas.[4] The Encyclopedia explains The word Christmas originated as a contraction of "Christ's mass," from the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes m├Žsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038, compounded from Old English derivatives of the Greek christos and the Latin missa. In short, Christmas, and many of its traditions, migrated from pagan celebrations to take on Christian connotations.
It is generally believed and conceded by the learned, who have investigated the matter, that Christ was born in April. I have seen several accounts—some of them published in our periodicals—of learned men in different nations, in which it is stated that, according to the best of their judgment from the researches they have made, Christ was crucified on the 6th of April. That is the day on which this church was organized. But when these learned men go back from the day of his crucifixion to the day of his birth, they are at a loss, having no certain evidence or testimony by which they can determine it. I intend this afternoon to give light on this subject from new revelation, which we, as Latter-day Saints, can depend upon.
For the sake of visitors in the congregation, Orson described the Book of Mormon as a record of Israelites who left Jerusalem and founded a civilization on the American continent. He reasoned:
Now if God led a company of Israelites from Palestine to colonize this continent, and taught them to keep the law of Moses with its sacrifices and burnt offerings, typical of the great sacrifice that was to be made at Jerusalem, it would not be at all strange for him to give to them a sign concerning Jesus, when he should be born, and when he should die. He did this by the mouths of prophets. Numerous prophets were raised up on this land, and they prophesied to the inhabitants thereof, and taught them about the coming of Jesus, and what signs should be given at the time he should come. They taught them that the night before Jesus should be born there would be no darkness on this land, but that it would be perfectly light. They would see the sun set in the evening, and that, during the night, until it should rise the next morning, there would be no darkness; that great signs and lights would appear in the heavens, and that they were to be to them indications of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ [See Helaman 14:1-8]. These signs were given, and by them the people on this continent knew the very day that Jesus was born [see 3 Nephi 1:4-23].
The Book of Mormon gives us a wonderful addition to the nativity story as found in the New Testament. Orson describes the Book of Mormon account, including the widespread disbelief in Christ and the prophets in the years following the sign of His birth and before the crucifixion. The people were warned of the calamities that would occur at the death of Christ, including three days of darkness. Using the dates in the Book of Mormon, Orson came up with Christ's age at the time of the crucifixion, taking into account longitudinal differences between Jerusalem and Central America; but he runs into a little trouble regarding the exact nature of the Nephite calendar; proposing that the old Mexican calendar would provide a good estimate:
When Jesus was crucified, at the age of about, thirty-three years, if the Nephites reckoned according to the Mexican portion of the Israelites, they had not added the eight days that we would add for leap year, consequently this would shorten their years, and instead of being thirty-three years, three days and part of the fourth day, it would bring it, according to our reckoning, eight days less than the Book of Mormon date, or thirty-two years, three hundred and sixty days and fifteen hours. This, then, it is highly probable, must have been the real period that existed between the birth and the crucifixion of our Savior.

Now we have a clue in the New Testament to the time of his crucifixion, but not of his birth; that is, we know that he was crucified on Friday, for all of the Evangelists testify that Saturday was the Jewish Sabbath, and that on Friday Jesus was hung on the cross, and according to the testimony of the learned, that was on the 6th of April, consequently by going back from the crucifixion 32 years, 360 days and 15 hours, making allowance for the longitude, it gives Thursday for his birthday. Again, making allowance for the errors of Dionysius the monk, adding four years or nearly so to the vulgar or incorrect era, it would make the organization of this Church take place precisely, to the very day, 1,800 years from the day that he was lifted up on the cross.

Orson saw this "coincidence" as evidence that Joseph Smith was directed by God- as D&C 1 claims- to organize the Church on the anniversary of the crucifixion:
This is something very marvelous in my mind. Joseph Smith did not choose the 6th of April upon which to organize this Church: he received a commandment from God, which is contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, setting apart that day as the one upon which the Church should be organized. Why did he set up his kingdom precisely 1,800 years from the day on which he was lifted up on the cross? I do not know why. The Lord has his own set time to bring to pass his great purposes....the very fact that God commanded that boy to organize the Church on that day, ought to be regarded as strong collateral evidence of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
Interestingly, Orson does not conclude, as is sometimes believed by some Saints, that Christ was also born on April 6:
Perhaps I have said all that is needful on this matter. If I were to celebrate Christmas, or the birthday of Christ, I should go back a little less than thirty-three years from his crucifixion, and it would bring it to Thursday, the 11th day of April, as the first day of the first year of the true Christian era; and reckoning on thirty-two years, 360 days and fifteen hours from that, it would bring it to the crucifixion, and bring it on Friday also (JD 15:253-265).
This post is not an endorsement of Orson's reckoning, just an interesting discussion regarding his views on the subject. After discussing the chronology of Christmas, Orson moved on to discuss the chronology of New Years Day, which I will blog later in the week. Footnotes: [1] Orson believed the sacrament was the most often preached subject in the Church, viewing the actual ordinance of the Sacrament as a sermon on the atonement: [The doctrine of the Atonement] is one that has been so thoroughly taught to the Latter-day Saints, that I esteem it almost unnecessary to repeat that with which they are so familiar. By partaking of the ordinance of the Lord's Supper every Sabbath day, we commemorate that great event. If we do not preach so much about it by word of mouth we certainly fulfill the commandment which God has given requiring us to remember unto the Father the crucified body and shed blood of his Son, without which there would have been no remission of sin, and no redemption, and mankind would have remained in their fallen state. No light could have penetrated the hearts of the children of men, and there would have been no resurrection, no exaltation in the kingdom of God without the atonement. [2] "[T]he fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and the Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it ..." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 121). [3] Apparently, Orson had been reading Smith's Bible Dictionary:
You will find a full account of these matters in the writings of the learned, in encyclopedias, and in various works touching upon chronology, so that you have no need to take my testimony alone on this subject, for you have access to our library here in this city, and you can examine works on chronology and see that I am correct. There may be those here who would like me to cite some works on this subject. I will cite one that I read while I was in England, a Bible dictionary, by a very learned author named Smith. This subject is treated very plainly and fully in that work.
[4] See "Christmas," Catholic Encyclopedia. I am relying heavily upon the Christmas entry in Wikipedia.